Current reviews provide limited information on children’s needs or their future care
The largest analysis so far of domestic homicide cases in England and Wales has revealed the importance of taking into account children’s experiences and providing them with the right level of support in the aftermath of domestic homicide, which can often inflict long-term harm on children’s lives.
Researchers at the Connect Centre at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) analysed all domestic homicide reviews (DHRs) published between 2011 and 2016, focusing on families with children under the age of 18. The research, published in the British Journal of Social Work, highlights the need to make children’s accounts more central to these reviews in order to provide better support to those who have experienced domestic violence.
Out of the 142 reviews analysed – which are multi-agency reviews completed by Community Safety Partnerships following domestic homicides – 55 cases involved children. DHRs are full reviews of the circumstances in which the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect perpetrated by a relative, someone with whom they were in an intimate relationship, or a member of the same household.
Children who lose their mother to domestic homicide are likely to have experienced a long history of domestic abuse in addition to the violent and sudden loss of their primary carer.
The extent of children’s exposure to homicide varied, with some physically affected, and some directly witnessing the homicide, viewing the aftermath, or calling for help.
Nearly a third of these DHRs identified that children had previous experience of domestic violence and abuse, and contact between the perpetrator and the children emerged as a means of continuing patterns of control and intimidation, even after families had separated.
Despite this, the reviews provided limited information on children’s needs or their future care, and rarely involved children in the review process itself. 11 DHRs mentioned that children were receiving post-homicide support through schools, children’s social care or victim support services. Only three reviews identified a need for trauma-focused support, and just one DHR highlighted the need for longer-term support.
A failure to hear children’s accounts of violence at home was also reported by some of the reviews. One young person told the review panel that that no-one talked to her directly about her experiences and feelings at the time, or appeared to consider that they mattered.
Professor Nicky Stanley, Professor of Social Work and co-director of the Connect Centre for international research on interpersonal violence and harm at UCLan, said: “Despite the enduring harm that domestic homicide can inflict on children, they are often treated as invisible in domestic homicide reviews. Giving more of a priority to children’s experiences within these reviews could strengthen both policy and practice in this field.”
This research has been published in the British Journal of Social Work and the full paper can be accessed here.
Table 1: Children’s Direct Exposure to Domestic Homicide
Type of Exposure and DHRs (n=55)
Child died - 2
Child injured - 3
Child directly witnessed homicide - 6
Child saw mother’s body post homicide - 5
Child called for help - 5
Children in house at time of homicide but extent of exposure uncertain - 5
Total number where child/children had some exposure - 17